In Oban, gateway to the Hebrides…
…I’m sitting waiting for the ferry to Barra…
…when an email from my mother arrives.
She’s had her DNA read from a saliva sample.
It seems we are basically Finnish, with Siberian roots.
Which is interesting, because I’ve always felt rather Asian.
The ferry skirts our more recent ancestral homeland, the island of Mull, on its way to the Outer Hebrides.
On the five-hour trip I eat — of course — a masala curry prepared by the crew.
My song Trans-Siberian Express is going round and round in my head. It feels as if we could be going to Aegina, Alicudi or Inujima.
A crewman says he’s spotted thirty basking sharks in these waters. “Aye, and you’ll see one if you go to the information officer,” says a colleague.
Barra is a small island with a single-tracked road that quickly loops back on itself.
Kisimul Castle, seat of the Macneils of Barra Lessee, stands on a rock in the southern bay.
Castlebay is “the big city”. There’s even a Fon wifi signal here (hence this entry)!
Islands have flavour because they’re hard to get to. So they preserve a certain distance, an archaic DNA. The ice-scoured hills are older even than my Siberian ancestors.
The first thing I think, driving around this island, is “Now this is a place!”
Rain patters regularly on the Polo roof. I sleep in the car, waking at 5am. It’s always light here. Wind-lashed trees repeat the form of the map itself: their West side bowed and broken, their East side fertile and tranquil.
Even in midsummer it’s too cold to get out of the car for long. The wind cuts to the bone. Lambs gambol and corncrakes croak. The grassy fields are full of reeds and buttercups.
That canny cultural chameleon Christ may appear in America as a conservative politician, but here he’s a fisherman.
From the top of Mount Heaval you can hear cows, sheep, cocks, dogs, the keening wind, cars, and the tannoy on the moored ferry.